It’s just as well one can never have too many shoot-'em-ups, because, no bones about it, Raging Blasters is absolutely fantastic. A Japan-only release on Switch (though available on Steam) that's magically entirely in English from top to bottom, this is the kind of indie-gaming labour of love that deserves a great lungful of hilltop-screaming. Breakneck paced with rarely any let-up, Raging Blasters is a love letter to Compile shmups that borrows heavily from the likes of Zanac.
Its presentation is superb, from the character designs to the beautifully colourful graphics and racing parallax. There’s a nice weight to the various craft and explosions, complimented by crackling sound effects. While the rolling backgrounds are simple in theme and very reminiscent of Zanac Neo’s opening stage (PS1), their deep-space tech elements are nonetheless rendered with attractive artistic heft and lovely colour casting.
Special mention has to go to the soundtrack. Strap in and set your headphones to max: this is an aural barnstormer that positively lights up your senses. And, as if it wasn’t ridiculously good already, an honestly-too-cool-for-school chiptune arrange version can be selected from within the options screen.
There are two character options, both of whom play identically, used for either co-op play or the special ‘Dual Play’ mode. Dual play, if you’re unaware, is a niche designed for hardcore maniacs who want to control both ships simultaneously in single player mode, popularised in arcades by people who would take challenge intravenously if they could. Additionally, a Caravan Mode has been included, which makes sense considering Raging Blaster’s obvious inspirations. Caravan Modes, oft seen in the PC Engine’s shmup catalogue, are intense, carefully engineered three-minute score challenges, now with online leaderboards for a global spin.
Very friendly for genre newcomers to get engaged with, here, ‘Normal’ difficulty is actually just that, as opposed to most shmups’ default settings being geared toward players already hardened to the genre. It’s a very easy and enjoyable initial 1CC (one-credit clear) that acts as a satisfying training platform before you take on Hard and Expert modes, where dodging becomes more pressing and scoring more involving.
Mechanically, Raging Blasters is nice and simple. Your ship touts a forward shot and a wide shot as standard, and the ability to change the ship’s speed at will. An assortment of weapon icons constantly rain down: lasers, wave guns, fireballs, protective rings and homing missiles, all dealing with strings of enemy formations in unique and often advantageous ways. Learning how to utilise weaponry is half the fun, and the game demands experimentation in smart ways. A good example is stage three’s revolving, laser toting boss, who goes down fastest with a pairing of the wide shot and homing missiles.
Each of Raging Blaster’s stages features two boss encounters that are full of visual energy, with increasingly interesting patterns and movements that make good use of the screen’s space. They’re generally very easy on defaults, and score-based 1-ups are doled out generously as you chain enemies and destroy complete waves. If you’re a DoDonPachi veteran having nightmare flashbacks, relax: Raging Blaster’s chaining is easy, enjoyable and segmented, allowing a decent amount of downtime between kills before the chain is lost. Learning enemy patterns, as well as experimenting with weaponry, is key to strategising, whereby you tie chains together and hoover up gem clouds from successfully destroyed formations. And, if scoring isn’t your thing, you can just get on with the joys of mindless destruction.
Being mostly the work of just one man — a developer known as Terarin — it’s striking how well-tuned it all is. Nothing feels haphazard or clunky, and the balancing lands just right. That Terarin listened carefully to more than 20 testers and tweaked the game accordingly with every new beta build really shows his dedication to the art.
If you liked the look and feel of M2’s GG Aleste 3 — a Game Gear homage released at the end of 2020 — you’ll positively adore this. What’s even more incredible, is, while that release arrived with plenty of fanfare and hype, Raging Blasters is a relative unknown that might actually marginally out-Compile M2’s triple-A effort.
It’s a rare day that an indie shmup, so well-buried that most have never heard of it, manages to be this good at what it does. It hasn’t got vast worlds to soar over, nor does it try to break new ground. Instead, it delivers an old-school shmup experience in a fresh new way, fired up on influence and ambition, and the love of a genre. Fans would be raging mad not to pick it up.